Client expectations management: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”

Written by: Karl Sakas

Your clients think your agency is doing a bad job at expectations management. Client-side marketing leaders in Houston reiterated the point at the annual MarketingEDGE conference—it’s a failure to communicate.

I’d asked the corporate panelists, “If you could change one thing about your marketing agency, what would it be?”

They were pretty blunt—they want expectations management from your agency. Here’s what the three clients said, with my paraphrasing of their answers.

Show Clients the Deliverables “Early and Often”

Audrey Trevino — Global Branding Manager, University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center ($4 billion research hospital)

Often, results come down to the strength of the [creative] brief. The brief helps the agency ask the right questions.

Audrey believes in the “early and often” principle when it comes to deliverables. When she worked on the agency side earlier in her career, she’d never show something to a client until it was finished or nearly finished—she wanted it to be perfect.

Now, she wants to see things earlier, so she can provide feedback about whether things are on the right track. She doesn’t it like it when agencies invest tons of effort in a particular direction which (if she’d known sooner) wasn’t one she’d have endorsed.

When agencies do the “big reveal,” this often leads to deliverables that “look great, but aren’t on strategy or on message.” She can’t accept them, because they’re pretty but they don’t solve the business problem.

Don’t Surprise Clients’ Key Stakeholders at the End

Christine Walker — Senior Director, B2B Marketing, NRG Energy ($10 billion energy company)

Submerge yourselves in the content. Sometimes, the [agency’s] solution is good for one part of the [client’s] business, but not the rest.

Involve all key stakeholders along the way. If you wait to share things with key people until the very end, it doesn’t go well—people are surprised at the results, and usually not in a good way.

Don’t Make Them Wonder What Went Wrong

Shannon League — Director of Marketing, Johnson Development (residential and commercial land developer)

It’s all about communication.

Communication is a daily struggle. Shannon likes details—send her the details.

Agencies think they’re communicating, but then she’ll get something back [from the agency] that doesn’t add up—she expected it one way and got another. It leaves her wondering, where was the disconnect? Where did things fall through the cracks?

Question: What do you do to improve your client communications? 

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